By Dean Derhak
In the early days of digital wide-format printing, the raster image processor (RIP) was the premier tool for print service providers (PSPs) to ensure high-quality results. Since then, other innovations have taken centre stage, including new output devices, file sharing, remote access and cloud-based storage and applications.
RIPs still matter—indeed, print quality depends on them—but it can now be more confusing for large-format PSPs and signmakers to know what to look for when choosing one. The following are 10 considerations to keep in mind.
1. Do bundled RIPs offer good value?
This is a difficult question to answer definitively, as value is in the eye of the beholder. The issue depends in large part on a PSP’s unique selling proposition (USP) within its market.
There are certainly many excellent RIP software packages from leading suppliers that are bundled with wide-format printers and, for that matter, a combined printer-and-RIP purchase is a good way to ensure compatibility. The decision needs to be made not only for technical reasons, however, but also with business-related factors in mind. A growing shop will need to be able to add more printers and/or cutters in the near future, after all, which will also need to be complemented with a compatible RIP.
That being the case, it may make more sense to purchase a high-quality RIP that is not bundled with any particular piece of hardware, but can support a whole fleet of machines in the production and finishing department.
2. Who developed the software bundled with the printer?
Understanding the origin of the RIP will also help when making a purchasing decision.
In some cases, software bundled with a printer is proprietary to the manufacturer of that printer, so it is important to check (a) how scalable, flexible and upgradeable it will be and (b) how much support will be provided in the future.
In other cases, when the desired printer does not come bundled with software, it is up to the PSP to find out if the machine will run RIPs from suppliers with which it is already familiar. Indeed, the software provider’s track record is a key aspect of this consideration. Signmakers are trusting their business on this basis and will need to know where to go for support when they encounter colour management problems.
3. Will the RIP enable the business to grow?
Just as playing golf well requires more than one club, so too should RIP software offer versatility, with a comprehensive suite of tools and features for various aspects of the large-format printing process. Even a less expensive, more basic RIP with fewer ‘bells and whistles’ should at least be upgradeable to meet a sign shop’s changing needs. Otherwise, the shop could miss out on profitable application opportunities.
Another question relating to future expansion is the ease of adding new devices to the shop that will also be supported by the existing RIP.